Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Recipe of the Month: Soupe au crabe et aux asperges

There were many things that surprised and amazed me when I moved to Paris.  Many had to do with cooking and eating.  Lunches were long, and they were the biggest meal of the day.  That has changed because French lunch breaks are no longer two hours long.  Except for business lunches.
     The table was - and still is - set differently, with the spoon all alone at the top of the plate and the fork turned over on its tines.
     Lettuce was never cut; you had to learn to fold it into bite-sized parcels using your knife and fork, which is a real challenge, on a par with learning to use chopsticks.
     And asparagus was white.
     Americans think of asparagus as a thin green vegetable.  That’s because a) it’s a different variety and b) it’s grown above ground, allowing it to produce the chlorophyll that makes the green color. French asparagus was traditionally grown in rows of mounded earth, never seeing the sun until it was harvested.  That makes it not only white, but much more tender.  And the taste is less bitter.
     Lately green asparagus has made great inroads, maybe because it's more labor-friendly, but that's only a hypothesis on my part.  Maybe it's just a fad.  Or maybe the green type can be harvested faster.
     Both are delicious.  I prefer my green asparagus in cooked dishes or else grilled over charcoal and then served warm with only a dribble of balsamic vinegar.  But white asparagus can’t be beat as an appetizer.  Or in a soup.
     As May is a good month for fresh asparagus, here’s a recipe that’s easy and fast to make.   Plus it leaves you with asparagus tips to use in another dish!

  • 1/3 stick (50 g) butter
  • 2 shallots, finely diced
  • fresh (i.e. uncooked) stems from one bunch of white asparagus
  • 4 T (40 g) flour
  • 3 c (70 cl) water in which the asparagus was cooked
  • 3 c (70 cl) milk
  • 8 oz (220 g) canned crab
  • ½c (10 cl) crème fraîche
  • cilantro
  • 1 t salt
  • freshly-ground pepper 

- Cut off the tips of the asparagus and set them aside for another dish.  (You could grill them and serve them over a good steak with sautéed fresh mushrooms.)
- Cut off the tough end of the asparagus stems and peel off the hard outer layer of skin.
- Melt the butter, but don’t let it brown.
- Dice the shallots and sweat them until they’re translucent.
- Meanwhile, boil the asparagus stems for 3-4 minutes.  Remove them from the water, but don’t throw the water out.
- Add the flour to the shallots, stir and lower the heat.  Simmer for 1 min.
- Pour in 3 c of the water used to cook the asparagus.
- Add the milk and salt and bring to a boil, then let simmer for 15 min.
- Remove any cartilage from the crab.
- Mix the asparagus and the liquid in a blender, then strain.
- Stir in the crème fraîche and pour into individual bowls.
- Decorate with the crab and cilantro.

Crème fraîche isn’t always handy, and when it is, it can be pricy.  According to Julia Child, French cream has a butterfat content of 30%, which makes it comparable to American whipping cream.  “If it is allowed to thicken with a little buttermilk, it will taste quite a bit like French cream, can be boiled without curdling, and will keep for 10 days or more under refrigeration.”  By “a little buttermilk”, Julia means 1 T of buttermilk for 1 c of whipping cream.  You just heat it a bit, NOT to boiling by any means, pour it into a partially-covered jar and let stand for a few hours.  Then stir and refrigerate.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Out & About: Exhibits: Au Temps de Klimt

There is no excuse for being bored in Paris.  None.  Zero.
     So it's off  to an exhibition on Klimt and his fellow artists of Austria’s Secession Movement, which is to say their equivalent of Art Nouveau.  It blossomed from around the turn of the century to the beginning of World War I, whose grim realities put an end to the gilt and carefree-ness of the Art Nouveau period.
     The show displays 15 of Klimt’s major works, including Judith, Salome and especially his Beethoven friezes.  These are artworks that won’t be seen outside Austria for the coming decade, so it was a perfect opportunity for me, especially as I live only five Métro stations away.
     In addition to Klimt, there are works by most of the other artists you may have heard of - Mucha, Egon Schiele, Moll, Kokoschka... - and many you probably haven’t.  180 documents, photos and artworks in all.
     The first room is dedicated to works on Paris, including Klimt’s “Philosophy”, which won the gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris.  Then a few steps down brings visitors face to face with Klimt’s three huge Beethoven friezes. In the background, an audio system plays The Ode To Joy because the friezes were meant to personify the composer’s 9th Symphony.  The first frieze is women floating at the top of the room, their bodies elongated, their eyes closed.  Are they sleeping?  Are they wingless angels?  And who is the golden knight they are flying toward.  The middle frieze is the strangest to me.  Beautiful women, except for an old tart with a paunching stomach and sagging breasts - perhaps the future for all those beautiful women? - and in the foreground a hairy babboon.  Evidently these are the dark forces:  the Gorgons with their snake hair-do, and next to them Typhoeus, the deadliest monster of Greek mythology.   The last frieze is salvation through the Arts, and it’s mostly gold and gems.  The audio-guide comes in handy here; otherwise you’ll miss all the meaning.
     About halfway through the show are the other famous gilded works by Klimt:  Judith and Salome.  His two femmes fatales.  Judith leaning her head back lasciviously, eyes almost closed, her neck made longer by a bejeweled golden necklace, her vest open to reveal one alabaster breast. Salome with her lover’s head almost absent-mindedly dangling by its hair from her clutching fingers.  (In fact, Salome is a second Judith here, a case of mistaken identity.)
     There are other portraits by Klimt at the end of the show. Especially one in a black frame that is entrancing:  “Head of a young woman, full face”, her riveting eyes holding you spellbound.  At least they did me.  (I remember it as being in color, but could only find this image of it in black-and-white.  Wonder which it really was.)
     The show also features many lithographs by Kokoschka and drawings by Egon Schiele, as well as very early photographs by various artists.  One theme is trees in landscapes, with works by Moser - including his exceedingly minimalist “Mountainsides” - and Rudolf Jettmar’s strange “Mountain Lake” that is hard to decipher and far more modern than most of the other works in the exhibition.
     For those of you who like pottery, there are several groupings of ceramics by Powolny.  For statuary, there’s Beethoven - to go with the friezes - plus a few other historic figures.  Art Nouveau furniture is also on display here... and if you like it, I suggest you visit the Orsay Museum’s furniture section, often overlooked.

The only setback to this show - and indeed to the entire “museum” - would be if you’re claustrophobic.  The Pinacothèque is a dark and crowded space.  A non-museum created by a man in love with art, it stretches twistingly over the ground floor (and basement level, not used here) of an office building in the very center of Paris.  Its layout is a bit strange, a succession of interconnecting niches, some of which require a switch-back, retracing your steps against the onslaught, much like a salmon trying to swim upstream.
     So far this has been a very popular show, so come armed with patience, both in the line outside of the Pinacothèque and as you snake your way through the exhibition.

Egon Schiele

Au Temps de Klimt:
La sécession à Vienne

Pinacothèque de Paris
8 rue Vignon; 9è
Métro: Madeleine

Feb 12 - June 21, 2015
Daily 10:30-6:30 / Wed & Fri open until 8:30 pm

14 & 11.50 €

A video of the show.  The text is in French, but the images aren't

And another video to explain the Beethoven Friezes:

Friday, April 3, 2015

Recipe of the month: Navarin d'agneau printanier

Lamb.  You either love it or you hate it.
     But I’m ready to bet that if you hate it, you’ve probably only had it over-boiled and served up with mint sauce.  So here’s a chance to try it à la française.
Mont Saint Michel's prés salés
     The French are very proud of their lamb.  And rightly so.  There’s little as delicious and succulent as a lamb who’s been fed on the prés salés, the salt meadows around Mont St. Michel that are under seawater when the tide is high, giving them a delicate, built-in and all-natural saltiness.
     Some of the best I’ve ever eaten was a leg or shoulder of lamb with cloves of garlic tucked into little incisions and then oven-roasted until the skin was golden and crisp.  And then there’s méchoui - a whole lamb on a spit over a fire pit that is slow-roasted all day, al fresco, a tradition repatriated from the ex-French colonies of North Africa and which I enjoyed recently on a trip to Cuba.
     This year Easter falls conveniently in April.  So let’s prepare one of France’s Easter favorites:  lamb with new spring vegetables.  If you’re Christian, this will work in perfectly with the concept of The Lamb of God.  If you’re not, it’s just a spring dish of wonderful things that are at their prime in this season.

  • 3 lb shoulder or neck of lamb cut into large pieces, with bones
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 garlic cloves 
  • a large sprig or two of fresh rosemary (or 1 t dried rosemary)
  • bay leaf
  • salt & freshly ground pepper.
  • ½ bottle of light red wine
  • 6 young carrots, cut in half
  • 6 small young turnips, cut in half
  • 12 spring onions
  • 8-12 tiny new potatoes, washed but not peeled
  • 2 good handfuls (½ c) of fresh shelled peas

Ask the butcher to cut the lamb into 2-3 inch pieces.  Some bones can be left to add to the taste.
- In a skillet, sauté the lamb pieces in ½ butter ½ olive oil until they are well-browned on all sides.
- Put the l
amb into a large stew pot or Dutch oven and sauté the onion in the same pan you used for the lamb.
- When the onion is translucent, add in the whole cloves of garlic, letting them cook for just a minute or two.  (Garlic contains a lot of sugar and it burns very quickly.)
- Put the onion and garlic into the Dutch oven with the lamb.
- Add just enough of the wine to cook off the drippings from the bottom of pan.  These will add lots of flavor to the stew.  Pour the gravy over the lamb and vegetables in the Dutch oven.
- Add the rosemary and bay leaf, plus some sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Pour in the rest of the wine, cover and let simmer for 1 to 1 1/4 hour.  If the liquid is getting low, add a bit more wine, as needed.  (Remember:  the alcohol will cook off, so this dish is fine for children.)
- When the meat is almost done, put the spring onions, carrots, turnips and potatoes into a separate pan and brown them for 10-15 minutes in ½ butter ½ olive oil.
- Blanch the peas in boiling salted water for 5 minutes.  Drain them well.  (If you do this ahead of time, be sure to leave them in the colander under cold running water for 2-3 minutes to stop the cooking and keep the peas bright green.  Then you can set them aside until you’re ready for them.)
- Add the vegetables and the peas on top of the meat and let them steam for about 10 minutes.
- Arrange the meat on a platter and decorate with a few sprigs of curly parsley.  Serve the vegetables in a large tureen or other deep serving dish.
- You can strain the gravy if you want, but personally I like those little crunchy bits.  Pour it over the meat or the vegetables or both... or serve it separately.
Serves 6.

If you want to make this more of a provençal dish, just after you’ve sautéed the onion, add some fresh tomatoes, skinned, seeds squeezed out, and the tomato “meat” cut into 8.
     If you can’t find spring vegetables, you can always use bigger ones cut into pieces.  And frozen peas can be substituted, if necessary.
     If you’re pressed for time, you can make the stew part ahead of time and just heat it up while you’re browning the vegetables.
     The perfect wine with “the delicate flavor of young spring lamb”, according to Julia Child, would be a Bordeaux-Médoc.  Pick a good year.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Carte de séjour

It’s early December and I’m sitting in a quiet Parisian restaurant with my old friend Kate.  She asks me something about my carte de séjour, France’s version of a Green Card.
     And when I look at it, I discover that I’ve been living in France illegally for.. 18 months!
     May 15, 2015 is when my passport expires, not my carte de séjour.
     The next morning I call the Préfecture de Police, the authority who handles resident permits, and confess my sins.  “Oh là là!” the woman says.  “Oh là là!” is not something you want to hear from the Préfecture de Police.
     She grants me “the first available appointment”, which is... three months later.  And tells me to go to a particular office at a particular time to get an extension.
     But when I do, and after waiting 2½ hours outside in the cold rain, I’m told “Your card expired too long ago.  We can’t give you an extension.  They shouldn’t have even sent you here.  We can’t do anything for you.”

Three months later, after the cold I caught in the rain has cleared up, I sign in for my appointment at the Préfecture de Police.  The lady at the front desk looks at my card and says “Oh là!”.  I tell her that’s one “là” short of what I had been told over the phone.
     Which is how I become known as Madame Oh-là-là from that point on.
     In spite of my very precise 2:30 pm appointment (and I arrived early), Antoine sees me one hour later.  He looks at the documents I was told in my formal letter to bring and says “Oh, you’re going to need a whole lot more documents than that!”  (Which is what the lady at the front desk had told me already.)
     Oh-là-là! I think.
     And I ask why weren’t those documents indicated on the paper sent out (by the same person who told me to go to that totally unnecessary office where I caught my cold).  Antoine says he doesn’t know.  But to come back as soon as I can get them together.

Which is the next morning, at the opening of the carte de séjour office.
     After waiting for an hour with the other victims, the Front Desk Lady calls for Madame Oh-là-là and says “Antoine. Counter 4".  I know where that is.  I was there only hours ago.
     Antoine congratulates me for my speed, then starts going through my papers (originals + 1 xerox).  And comes to a grinding halt when he sees that one of my bank accounts is sent to my U.S. address.  “Oh, that’s not good.” he says.  And I say “Oh-là-là!”  He commends me for keeping my sense of humor... and calls in his supervisor.
     Whose name is Béatrice.  Béatrice asks me a lot of auxiliary questions, the answers to which are to her liking.  She gives me a list of further documents to add so that the sin of having an address in the United States can be forgiven, and tells me to write a letter explaining all that I’ve just explained to her and Antoine.
     I tell them that I’ll be back in the afternoon, and hand Antoine a copy of my photo book on Paris, for being nice about this all (which was not the case in previous years!).  He says he can’t accept it.  Bribery, I guess.  He looks at his supervisor, who nods an “it’s OK”; it’s just a book, and I’m the author.  (I guess that could be part of the file instead of a bribe.)

For the second time, I make a round-trip back up that steep hill to Montmartre.  Instead of lunch, I write my mea culpa on plain paper instead of on the blackboard, find the other documents, plus some more that will show that I’ve been residing in Paris during those 18 (now 21) lost months.  In my letter, I even quote Josephine Baker, who sang “J’ai deux amours:  mon pays et Paris” (I have two loves:  my country and Paris), and generally throw in a lot of sturm und drang to tug at whatever heartstrings the Ultimate Supervisor and Signer of Green Cards may have.
     When I show up for the third time in 24 hours, Front Desk Lady greets Madame Oh-là-là with a smile.  She passes on the papers to Antoine, who tells me it doesn’t look good.  His supervisor Béatrice peeks her head around the corner and says that she’ll plead my case with her superior. They try to convince me to come back another day.  I tell them I have a book to read and don’t mind waiting the one or two hours more they estimate it will take.

Which is pretty much what it does take.  Postulant by postulant, people sit in the cubicles and then leave.  After a while, it’s just me and a South American lady, both waiting for the same thing:  the right to live in Paris as legal residents.  Should I lose that status, I’ll have to close all my bank accounts and open non-resident accounts, with all the nit-picking that requires.  I’ll have a one-year pass only.  And most importantly, I’ll lose my health coverage, which I paid into for decades... to the tune of 11% of all I ever earned.
     As the clock moves slowly, Senorita Supplicant is finally called into a cubicle and leaves.  There's only me now.
     The clock is poised at almost 5 pm.  Closing time.  Béatrice reappears.  Madame Oh-là-là is told to go back to cubicle 4 again, which has almost become a home-away-from-home.  Antoine tells me that I’ve been lucky. Béatrice has pled my case.  Her supervisor didn’t want to renew my card. He was adamant.  Said I was cheating and should be punished.  Béatrice told him he’d been renewing cards even for the homeless and here I was with two French children, three French bank accounts, an apartment that I owned, and having paid into The System for 30+ years.  Surely that was basis for residency.  And I guess he blinked.
     The last problem is that my fingerprints are to be taken digitally (a new touch since the last time ten years... I mean 11 ½ years ago.)  And the machine doesn’t want to work.  A second try.  And a third.  As all Antoine’s colleagues who haven’t already left look on - their coats, hats and gloves on because it’s 5 pm and the office is closed and they’re bureaucrats - Antoine tries another machine and... it works!
     So now a) we can all go home, b) none of them has to see me again for 10 years, and c) I have a legal document that states that I am indeed in France legally.  Champagne is in order.

     The sky is blue.  I go around the corner to Notre-Dame Cathedral because it feels like someone needs to be thanked, even though I’m not Catholic.  And then I go across the bridge and lose myself in an exhibit of the photographs of the Magnum News Agency.
     It’s been a long 24 hours.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Recipe of the Month: Fondue savoyarde

March is a time of melting, as my webmaster reminded me.  Melting snow mainly in the north of the United States, where I spend the non-France part of my life.  And after this past finger-numbing Michigan February, I certainly hope he’s right!  So it seemed logical that March would be the month of fondue.
     The word fondue comes from the French fondre, which means to melt.  And there will be a lot of melting before you can dig in.  Or rather dip in.
     In France, there is fondue bourguignonne (with meat) or fondue savoyarde (with cheese).  Savoie was an independent region annexed by France in 1860, which is very recently.  It’s in the Alps, near Switzerland - and thus the cheese, I guess.
      The Swiss used fondue as a way to make it through the winter on little money, stale bread and hardened cheese.  Now it’s become a pretext for a fun party, because anyone who loses his or her crust of bread in the cheese will have to a) buy the next bottle of wine, b) kiss his/her partner, c) perform a “trick” such as singing a song or telling a joke, and just generally getting teased a lot.
     There are few ingredients, so the choice of the wine and the cheese is of vital importance.  The wine must be a light and dry white, such as a Neuchâtel, Rhine, Riesling or Chablis.  The cheese is traditionally Emmentaler and/or Gruyère.  Fondue made with only Emmentaler is mildest, both together is a bit stronger, and well-aged Gruyère alone has the strongest flavor

  • 1 lb of “Swiss” cheese
  • 2 c white wine
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 2 or 3 T kirsch, or other brandy/cognac
  • a dash of nutmeg
  • salt & pepper
  • clove of garlic
  • crusty bread

You can start getting ready in advance by cutting the cheese into very small pieces or shredding it.  It will melt more smoothly than if you grate it.
     Then cut up some small loaves of hard-crust “French”-style bread, leaving two sides of crust because if you lose your bread... well, see above. The drier the bread, the better, so if you have a lot of bread left over from a party, this is an excellent opportunity to use it up.  Remember, the Swiss dunked their bread because they weren’t wasteful; how do you think the country got so rich?
     Kirsch (cherry brandy) is the traditional Swiss choice of brandy for a fondue.  You can use cognac, light white rum or even hard cider.  Or maybe a Poire William pear brandy from Alsace?

- Begin by heating the white wine over direct low heat until air bubbles start to rise to the surface.  NEVER BOIL THE WINE!
- Right away add the cheese, a handful at a time and stir with a wooden spoon.  And stir.  And stir.  Until the cheese is melted.  Then add another handful.  And stir.
- When all the cheese is melted, add the cornstarch diluted in the brandy. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a dash of nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible).

- Cut a large clove of garlic in half and thoroughly rub the inside of a round earthenware pot for an added layer of flavor.  For cheese fondue, you use an earthenware pot, called caquelon (pronounced “kah - keh - lo”); the metal ones are for the hot oil of meat fondue.
- Pour the cheese fondue into the caquelon and light it up.  Use a sterno or other type of fuel heat; candles won’t keep the cheese warm enough.
- Unlike fondue bourguignonne, where you just put in your fork and leave it until the meat is done to your liking, with cheese fondue you have to go one at a time, so arm yourself with patience.  More time for conversation. Besides, if several people have a go at the same time, someone could knock someone else’s bread off, and that’s sabotage (again, see above).  So one at a time, please, and dunking in a figure 8 motion so that you get the most cheese possible AND stir the cheese at the same time.  (Remember, the Swiss are famous for precision:  watches and such.)
- At the end you’ll have a rich brown crust on the bottom of the caquelon. This is considered “the best part” and it can either be divided up or awarded to the one who didn’t lose their bread.

Should the cheese get too thick, stir in a little wine.  If it separates or gets lumpy, put it back on the burner, stir in ½ t of cornstarch blended in a bit of warm wine and stir it with a wire whisk.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Recipe of the Month: Crêpes

When I was a child, I heard of something called Crêpes Suzette.  I didn’t know what it was, other than a dessert (which made it of obvious interest), but I imagined something sweet somehow involved with a woman named Suzette, who was surely dark-haired and very beautiful because she was foreign.  Then one day I learned that crêpes were only thin pancakes - minus the maple syrup - and that Suzette was just the name of the very small girl present when they were served for the first time.  AND that the whole thing was, in fact, an accident in which the liqueur-soaked crêpe sauce accidentally caught fire in the kitchen.
     So much for the exotic Suzette and her crêpes!
     All over France you’ll find crêpes at sidewalk stands.  Their aroma and warmth are welcome in the cold grey drizzle of a Paris winter.  It was always a treat for my children on the way home from school.  Most French crêpes are served with just a smear of butter and a sprinkle of sugar, or with jam - usually strawberry or apricot - but sometimes with chocolate or hazelnut spread or crème de marron (a sweet chestnut spread).
     This recipe comes from my Paris neighbor Nicole, who says, “My recipe doesn’t come from Suzette, but from a certain Janine, a friend of my mother.  It makes 15 crêpes.  One big advantage:  it doesn’t have to be made ahead of time.  You can whip it up at the last minute.”
     However, you can make a crêpe batter up to two hours in advance and then cook the crêpes when your guests arrive.  Or you can cook a stack of them and keep them warm in the oven.  Dress them up with your favorite topping, flame them with a liqueur, or add dollops of whipped or ice cream and a shower of sliced almonds.  This recipe calls for rum but you can use anisette (anise flavoring), Cointreau or vanilla extract or any other liqueur or flavoring you like.  Plus citrus zest to give it some zing.
     This is the traditional way of making crêpes.  Julia Child just bungs everything in the mixer for 1 minute and strains any lumps out, but her batter has to be made 2 hours in advance (and left in the refrigerator).
     I’m posting this as February’s recipe because the 2nd is the Chandeleur (shahn-duh-luhr), the festival of the candles, which has been celebrated since the 7th century.  The tradition is to hold a gold louis d’or coin in one hand and flip the crêpe with the other.  (A silver dollar might work this side of the Atlantic.)  This will make you a) rich or b) grant the wish you made as you flipped your crêpe.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 T butter
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 T water
  • 1 T rum (or lemon or orange zest)
  • sugar to taste (remember, these are dessert crêpes)
  • pinch of salt

- Heat the milk to a boil.  Take the milk off of the burner and add the [melted] butter.  Leave it to cool.
- Put the flour in a large bowl.  Make a “well” in the center of the flour and break the eggs into the well, one by one.  Whisk well.
- Add a pinch of salt, then the water, then the flavoring (or zest).
Slowly stir in the cooled milk.  The batter should have no lumps, or else you need to strain them out.

Thanks, Nicole.  For those of you who have never made crêpes, here’s the drill:
- Stir the batter before making each crêpe.
- Pour a small “ladle-ful” of batter into a hot, well-greased crêpe or omelet pan, tilting the pan until just the bottom is thinly covered.  Remember:  these are not pancakes.  The crêpe should look almost like lace.
- When the edges start to brown, run a spatula knife under the crêpe, from the sides in, to make sure it doesn’t stick.
- Toss the crêpe to flip it and let it finish browning.

Don’t cook the crêpes too much; they should be golden, like the sun that they may once have represented at this half-way point of winter.

And don’t worry if your crêpe sticks to the ceiling or the cupboards when you flip it.  At least the first one.  In the old days, the French said that if it was still stuck there in the autumn, you’d have a good harvest.

There Goes the Neighborhood

A neighborhood is a living thing.  Not a shape-shifter, but more like a stage backdrop or a movie set that morphs with the seasons and the years until it’s not what it was but not yet what it will become.  Somehow it’s still the same... and yet...
     I’ve lived in Montmartre long enough to see it shed several of its skins. When I moved here in 1970, it was a mixed bag of blue collar workers who raised three kids in one- or occasionally two-bedroom apartments, and of artisans - plumbers, electricians, carpenters - and shopkeepers - the butcher, the baker, the grocer, the fish monger - plus just the right scattering of artists, actors and entertainers to keep things interesting. Everyone talked to everyone else as they went about their daily lives, which were somewhat overlapping and intertwined.
     After about fifteen years, there was a gradual spillover from the neighboring Arab part of the arrondissement that lies to the east, North Africans who were being squeezed out, it seemed, by sub-Saharan Africans moving in.  There was less talking and fraternizing then.  In the park across the street, I observed clans of Arab mothers in djellabas talking and laughing together loudly while similar clans of French mothers whispered amongst themselves from the other side of the sandbox.  Meanwhile, their children gleefully played together, not yet aware that kind of thing just wasn’t done.
     And then the Beautiful People discovered Montmartre.  It was shortly after the turn of the century, post-Y2K. They had bought up and gentrified the Marais and then the Bastille areas and were hungry for a new make-over project to spend Daddy’s money on. And my Butte, my lovely hill, was looking good.  They snapped up apartment after apartment - preferably in the western sector farther from the unsuitable smell of couscous and sound of Oum Kalthoum wafting from open windows.  They combined two apartments - vertically or horizontally, it didn’t matter - to have more space.  The result was that the population was cut drastically with the declining number of apartments and the declining number of children per family.  And I noticed a huge difference on week-ends.  Instead of children running around the streets and parks, the Beautiful People - the Bobos (bourgeois bohemians) - threw the kid(s) in the family car and drove to their country house for the week-end. Everything became remarkably different.

Place des Abbesses, with Kushi Teas (far rt) where the bookstore used to be
Stores changed, too.  If I walk down a street I can tell you what used to be in that clothes store or restaurant or bank or real estate agency - because that’s about all there is now, if you exclude a few specialty shops and a handful of hold-overs.

Charcuterie Durand, the former deli
   For instance, the south side of the Place des Abbesses used to have a Tunisian green grocer, which is now a bank.  A few doors down was a photographer, who closed over the summer of 2013.  The mainstay of the neighborhood, directly across from the Abbesses Métro stop and next to Eglise St. Jean, was a bookstore that also sold any newspaper or magazine you might want in a number of languages, as well as a vast range of office supplies, plus fax and photocopy services.  It was run by a crusty grump in a wheelchair (who was always nice to me, but then again, I smile a lot).  One day he had a fatal heart attack.  His children inherited the store - which he actually owned instead of just leasing.  The daughter lived in Canada and the son in northern France.  The son ended up running it for a year but it ate into his family time too much.  I suppose he could have arranged for the staff to run it - Lord knows they’d been around long enough - but I suspect Kushmi Teas, a high-end tea retailer, made him an offer he just couldn’t resist.  And so there was no longer a place to get your paper in the morning or your TV Guide at night.  Finally the city of Paris set up a newsstand on the Place des Abbesses because the demand was so vociferous... and there was money to be made from residents and tourists alike.
Jacky, the butcher - still there
   Another example is the Rue Tardieu, along the tourist route to the Sacré-Coeur.  If I start from one end, the bakery on the corner is now a pizza-and-crêpe café and the florist has become just one in a long line of tchotchke shops (which are rife in this part of Montmartre). The former wine shop across from them, which I knew under two successive owners, watching their children grow up, is now a pizza parlor.  Next to it, the old butcher shop is another pizza parlor. (If truth be told, the wine shop owner sold to a pizza guy just to get even with the pizza guy next door who had made his life miserable... or so he said.)  Next to that was a fur store (they made the coats themselves - maybe they were Armenian refugees), which became a toy store and is now a second tchotchke shop.  The former health food store now sells chocolates and macaroons and other sugary treats that are a far cry from health foods. Across from it was a little yarn shop that now sells nothing but... balls... all sizes and colors of balls:  ball-shaped lights, party decorations, foam balls you’re supposed to put in a fishbowl to look pretty... you get the picture.  (I have yet to see a customer in there but it’s still open after several years so maybe it launders drug money on the side.)  The little eatery that had formerly been a girdle maker is now a souvenir shop, as is the children’s clothing shop run by the sister of the yarn shop lady and her husband (are you still with me?)  Even the pharmacy has been transformed into a souvenir shop - a pharmacy closing is unheard of in France!  So now there are five souvenir shops in a row, a whole block of them, right down to the corner, nothing but that, and all selling the exact same kitschy things!
Pépone, the fish store - still there
     Across from the funiculaire there used to be two pastry shops.  The one that belonged to the Prandys is now an up-scale perfume shop, like the almost identical one up the street. Mme. Prandy was like a grandmother to my newly-born daughter and would sing her songs in her native Alsatian accent.  The other pastry shop was bought, via a straw man, by Häagen-Dazs for below its market value - something for which I’ll never forgive them.  Mr. Bertheau was kind-hearted and wanted to help the young man get started in the business, at the expense of his own retirement funds (he himself had worked since the age of 14) but the straw man never even opened up for business.  He just handed the keys over to Häagen-Dazs and pocketed the fee.  Both the Prandys and the Bertheaus had become personal friends of mine over the years, mainly because of my two children and their love for pains au chocolat and croissants, as well as my own.
Christophe, being replaced - no more bread
     On the side street, the fish monger is gone, as is the baker and the butcher, and the hairdresser/barber where old Mr. Mercier used to get a shave every morning on his walk around the city block, a way of keeping in shape for an old gentleman who won a Bronze Medal at the Olympics back in 1900. His last stop on his walk was the larger of the two pastry shops, where he once sang “Ainsi font font font les petites marionettes” for my infant daughter, complete with all the hand movements, much to the surprise of Mme. Prandy who had always found him a bit... brusque.
     The latest victim, which I discovered on my recent arrival, is the electrician.  My electrician.  A husband-and-wife team who, I’m told, have retired.  They did all the work on my apartment, all the repairs, all the improvements, and sold me bulbs for all the lights that were continually blowing, a fact that became a joke between us (“You again?!”).  Being close by, it was handy... and we became friendly.  I always stopped in when I walked by, said hello, pet their son’s dog, which they babysat during the day, and exchanged neighborhood news.
Manu, of Caves des Abbesses - in for the long haul
     There are a few businesses that have weathered the storm. My pet green grocer is still there, albeit with a lovely remodeling of his tiny shop (see blog, Sept 22, 2013).  The bookshop on Rue Tardieu is still a bookshop, but without my beloved Mlle. Pigeon, who has surely shuffled off her mortal coil by now.  There’s a tiny shop that sells magazines, newspapers and office supplies on a side street, but the owners are past their retirement age, so who knows how much longer it will last. Pépone is still there for your seafood-and-fish delight, with the same little Italian lady, now white-haired, behind the cash register, who always wishes me a buon giorno or buona sera.  I can still buy specialty foods from the Auvergne region in the little shop on Rue Lepic from the same sweet lady.  The deli is still a deli, under new management, but their rotisserie guy just doesn’t have Monsieur Durand’s knack with poultry; the fines herbes are missing.  So for roasted birds and all my meat needs, I go to Jacky down the street, who is still going strong, especially as he’s now the only butcher on the entire length of the Rue des Abbesses (see blog, Feb. 15, 2014).  The new baker, Gilles, across the square still bakes, but he makes only pastry, no bread, unlike Christophe (see blog, Sept. 14, 2012). Luckily, the Caves des Abbesses is doing fine, and with the owner’s son Manu at the helm it will surely live long and prosper (see blog, Feb. 22 2013).
     So that’s my neighborhood.  It’s changing, but the memories - or as they say in French les souvenirs - are still there.

P.S.  One change that I do appreciate is Pedestrian Sunday.  All the streets of Montmartre (from the various boulevards that encircle it right up to the tippy-top) are closed to car traffic (except the trusty little Monmartrobus) every Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm in the winter and 7 pm in the summer.  If you live in that perimeter and want to drive or take a cab, you have to prove it to the cop by showing a special pass or something official with your address on it.  Otherwise, it’s only people strolling, biking, skating or skate-boarding.  Smiling and laughing.  And the air is so much cleaner!